Cannibals All: A world without the ACC

To kick this off, let me give some props to George Fitzhugh for the title. Name ring a bell? Of course it doesn’t; George Fitzhugh is someone that is only known by Civil War scholars. Fitzhugh wrote a really good critique, called Cannibals All: or Slaves without masters, of the way workers were treated in the Industrial North. The naming of the book comes from the practice of company owners devouring the strength, health, and very soul of their immigrant workers. I thought it was a fitting title as a couple of conferences are possibly going to completely devour the NCAA. (I will be writing an article in the near future outlining the history of the NCAA and whether it dying is good or bad).

SwimSwam’s Riley Overend recently published an article that Clemson, North Carolina, Florida State, and Virginia are in talks to join the SEC. The authenticity of this report has been questioned, and recently, I wrote an article stating that the ACC was safe from all of this realignment madness due to its TV deal that runs through the 2035-36 school year. Still, let’s pretend that this actually could happen and that the rumors, that seem more like fiction than fact, of ESPN trying to void its contract with the ACC are true. What would a college landscape look like without the ACC, especially with the death of the Pac 12?

The first thing that will happen is that the high profile programs from the ACC would scramble for homes. Clemson is way too good at football to not have the remaining three conferences to roll out the red carpet, and probably secure an NIL deal for the university (I’m not sure it’s possible for a university but what isn’t possible nowadays). The ACC is more than Clemson: Louisville, North Carolina, Pitt, Wake, and North Carolina St. are all programs that have experienced some recent football success. Louisville and North Carolina are also huge men’s basketball programs; speaking of men’s basketball, Duke is one of the largest basketball brands in the country, though their health post Coach K is up in the air. Women’s basketball is starting to gain more traction in the country, and the ACC has one of the best programs in the country in Louisville. We also have to remember that Notre Dame is a non-football member of the ACC. The ACC has some very attractive programs that will definitely be picked up.

While the ACC has some big brands, it also contains some small brand programs that might have more issues finding a home. Below are the ACC programs broken into tiers of importance to add and which of the three remaining conferences will most likely absorb them. Remember though, alignment is not based on common sense, academics, geography, or any sport other than football- football is king.

Tier 1: The Ferrari-these programs are so good that you would love to have one but know that you’re not good enough for them

Clemson: What else can you say about a team that has played the second most CFP games and has the second most wins? They are the marquee ACC program and perhaps the most important football program, not named Alabama, in the country. All three conferences go after Clemson, but this is a no brainer- Clemson goes to the SEC.

Duke: While not a great football team, the hoopla that they bring with the Cameron Crazies in hoops is enough to push Duke into the top tier. Still, this lack of football is what will keep it out of the SEC. Let’s be honest, the SEC already has an embarrassing football program in Vandy, and they don’t need another. Duke lands in the Big 10 because, let’s be honest again, the Big 12 can’t afford a Ferrari.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels bring the basketball chops like Duke and have a rabid fan base. The difference between Duke and North Carolina is that NC is actually competent on the grid iron. North Carolina has enough football strength to make games competitive with the top of a super league but not enough to actually challenge for a title- perfect fit for both the Big 10 and SEC. This is one where geography will win out as the Tar Heels go to the SEC. (A lot has been made about Duke and NC being a package deal because of history. I get that, but money trumps history. When one spot opens at the cool kids table at school, ya leave your old tablemates behind.)

Tier 2: The Porsche– when the Ferrari is out of your price range, you settle for the next step down

Florida State: A great brand in one of the hotbeds of football and basketball. There is enough history to be exciting and the hope that they will be relevant enough. Regardless, recruiting in Florida is a must, so all three conferences will reach out. Despite the recent lack of football success, the Seminoles did win a National Championship in 2013. There is enough basketball success to make these FSU a must grab. Geography wins as Seminole fans that are used to coming to football games in swimsuits won’t want to go North for a game in the snow. FSU goes to the SEC for the sunshine.

Louisville: One winning campaigns in the last four football seasons is not an enticing treat for an SEC that is football focused. There is tradition there, but the SEC can be picky in whom they let into the conference. Geography is not enough of a factor to make a difference. Louisville is a big basketball brand for both men and women, where the Big 10 and 12 both shine. Still the Big 12 has no shot. Football is always the driving force, and the Big 10 has better football. Louisville goes to the Big 10.

Notre Dame: I assume that everyone will be mad that I have Notre Dame as a Tier 2 when every conference wants them and the Big 10 is making the Irish their top target. ND is a member of the ACC for everything but football. The Irish like their independence and seem to like toying with everyone. I think that the football team will join their future conference, but I see a surprise coming. Notre Dame always has a decent Strength of Schedules, but they are very strategic to take teams that aren’t amazing but have decent records. Last year, they had games against teams like Wisconsin, Purdue, and Toledo-solid win records but not scary teams. They played one real team, Cincinnati, and lost. The rest of the schedule was filled by teams at or below .500: Stanford, Virginia, NC, Navy, Georgia Tech, etc. This is a very common theme on a year to year basis- one or two tough teams, two or three punchies, and more than half of the teams are just okay. Notre Dame has shown an aversity to stiff competition. The SEC will have a gauntlet of Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, and several other second tier programs, against which the Irish would struggle to reach eight wins. The Big 10 have Ohio St., Michigan, MSU, Penn State, Oregon, and a group of second tier that would also endanger a Notre Dame winning seaon. In a shocker, Notre Dame chooses the Big 12 in order to be the favorite to win the conference each year. To quote Andre Agassi, image is everything.

Tier 3: The Corvette– it’s that car that is actually reachable and still screams sporty.

Miami, Boston College, and Georgia Tech all fall into this tier for the same reason: TV markets. According to Nielsen ratings, the Atlanta based Georgia Tech falls into the 7th biggest market, Miami is in the 18th biggest market, and Boston College is located in the 10th biggest market. All three college are producing a ton of blue-chip football players. According to Banner Society, Georgia produces the third most blue chip recruits, with the majority coming from Atlanta. Florida produces the most blue-chippers, where Miami is one of the four biggest hotspots. While Massachusetts does not produce a ton of blue-chippers, Boston is where the majority of them are found. Unfortunately, all of these great attributes have not helped these programs find success in sports, as all three are pretty disappointing. Miami has the benefit of being the only one of these three programs that has a bullish outlook; Mario Cristobal is walking on water down in Miami. Miami will have the pick of their conference and will accept the SEC’s offer. Despite a favorable geographical location, the complete lack of athletic aptitude will keep the Big 10 or the SEC from offering Georgia Tech a spot. This is a mistake on the Big 10’s part as they let a Southern market slip past- G-Tech goes to the Big 12. The Big 10 will console themself with solidifying their hold on the Northeast by picking up Boston College.

Tier 4: The Mini-van– yeah, it ain’t sexy, but it’s practical

I think every parent remembers the day when they learned that they were pregnant with a second child. The immediate joy/fear/happiness usually give way to the “Oh crap, now we have to get a minivan” moment. Regardless of how much you want to avoid it, a minivan just makes sense with the multiple child seats, the car pools to school, and soccer weekends. In the end, it’s just a necessary step in growing up, just like having to pick between NC State, Syracuse, and Pitt. Nothing about these three schools screams sexy but they make sense in growth. NC State and Pitt just came off of good football seasons but are usually just around .500. Basically, they are dangerous enough to make the game interesting without being a threat. All three schools are close to a major market or a recruiting hotbed. These are schools that are great to round out your conference roster. NC State is probably the prize of this tier, due to the amount of blue-chip athletes coming from North Carolina. Due to the geographical location, the SEC will be willing enough to bring the Wolfpack into the fold. Pitt’s recent performance will be the icing on the cake for a school that shares a state with Penn St; the Big 10 will sweep in order to lock down Pennsylvania. Syracuse is a different issue altogether. They are historically bad at football but very solid at basketball, men and women (recent self destruction aside). The men’s basketball won’t be interesting to the SEC, and it probably won’t be enough to move the Big 10. Still, the Big 12 will be able to sell a basketball conference that contains Baylor, Arizona (from the defunct PAC 12), and Kansas. Syracuse’s addition to the Big 12 will make it the second best basketball conference in the nation.

Tier 5: The Nissan Cube– your parents gave into your crying for a car but can do nothing for your tears as everyone laughs at you as you drive it.

Let’s be honest, these are teams that are like your first car. Sure you take it since your parents basically gave it to you, but do you really want it? Virginia has football history but has been meh lately; they have a successful men’s basketball program, but it’s so defense focused that it puts anyone but the basketball purist to sleep (plus remember that Virginia is the only #1 seed to lose to a 16). Virginia Tech has some decent history in football but has also been meh lately. They are both located in a state that doesn’t have a major market or produce a ton of blue chip players. Wake Forest is coming off a great season, but that season was an aberration. While they are based in North Carolina, they have to fight for recruits with more popular schools like NC, NC State, and Duke. Still, they are as necessary as your first car. At present count, the Big 10 and SEC are both at an odd number of members, so they will both grab a member of this group. Since Virginia Tech has the most football success recently, they will be gobbled up by the SEC. The Big 10 will grab onto Virginia in an attempt to solidify basketball supremacy. Wake Forest will, for the moment, be picked up by the Big 12 but has a real possibility of sliding to the Big East or A-10.

Again, I don’t see the ACC folding. ESPN will make sure that the conference gets air time and that leaving will be a painful process. SwimSwam has broken other stories that have panned out, so be ready for the cannibalism of the ACC just in case.

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